The United States Military Academy at West Point is an institution rich in tradition. For cadets, one momentous event is Ring Weekend, held in late August for the new seniors (aka Firsties). Nearly every West Point grad treasures their class ring, also known as a “crass mass of brass and glass” in cadet slang. There is a rich, cadet-only ceremony on Friday night followed by several social events over the weekend to include a formal dinner and dance.
Most cadets invite a date for the weekend to help celebrate. For my Ring Weekend, I had the brilliant idea to take the opportunity to surprise my long-time girlfriend, Toni, by proposing. I planned it well in advance: picking out the ring during Spring Break, asking her parents’ permission during summer leave, etc. That spring, Toni was looking for clues to where our relationship was going and whether she should be interviewing. To cement the surprise, I told her she should definitely interview and be looking for a job. “You never know! I could die tomorrow.”
Unfortunately, in violation of the first rule of military operations, I’d violated OPSEC, operational security, by sharing my idea with all of my classmates. Things like this should be on a need-to-know basis only but I was to learn that the hard way!
By a cadet’s senior year, the long-term girlfriends have gotten to know one another and formed their own friendships. My friends had shared my plans with their dates and people were excited for us. As the dates began to arrive, they gathered outside the Mess Hall where the ceremony was taking place. Of course, they began talking and were especially excited that someone was getting engaged. While I was sitting in the dinner getting my ring, all I could think about was someone spoiling my surprise for Toni.
As the dinner ended, a light drizzle began. In panic, I dashed outside, said hello to Toni, who had traveled over 450 miles to be there, and pushed past her, leaving her in the rain. She’d no idea what was happening and became upset, certain I was breaking things off. Meanwhile, I sprinted up six flights of stairs in my dress uniform, madly worked my combination on my steel lockbox, retrieved the engagement ring, and then sprinted down six flights of stairs. Fortunately, one of my buddies escorted Toni out of the rain to the front entrance of the barracks.
Toni was nearly in tears as I grabbed her by the arm and dragged her into the closest private space I could find, a large closet used to store mops, brooms, and other cleaning supplies. Breathlessly, I blurted out I loved her and wanted her to be my wife. She was so astounded she didn’t answer so I asked her again. Still no answer! I jammed the ring on her finger and declared victory. Eleven months later we were married and now, nearly 23 years later, here we are.